In the late 19th century Barcelona was going through an industrial revolution. Eusebi Güell, a Spanish entrepreneur who profited greatly from this, acquired land in Muntanya Pelada translated as ‘Bare Mountain’ with views overlooking the sea and Barcelona. His vision was to transform this into a residential area for the wealthy. He commissioned Antoni Gaudí, his friend, to bring about this vision. The plan was to build 60 villas, roads and viaducts. Work started in 1900 and had to be stopped in 1914. Poor accessibility and other reasons meant the venture had to be abandoned. Only two of the planned houses were built. Casa Trias and a show house. These were not designed by Gaudí. The show house failed to sell and Güell persuaded Gaudí to buy it. Gaudi ended up living here till his death in 1926, while he oversaw the work at Sagrada Família. It is now a museum.
Park Güell is situated not far from our hotel but the walk is uphill. The shuttle bus from our local metro station takes us to the entry point. There is an entrance fee for entry into the restricted area of the park and it is timed. Early morning and late evening before and after the ticket collectors are present it is possible to gain free access to the site. We walk around the accessible part of the park as we await our allocated time.
The esplanade is partly dug into the mountain and partly situated above the Hypostyle room, where work is still going on. There is a bench running around the square decorated with mosaic and ceramic pieces. It is the work of Joseph Maria Jujol which has similarities to Gaudi’s creations. We walk down the steps and is greeted by a dribbling dragon/salamander. The Porter’s lodge guards the entrance gate and was designed by Gaudí. There is a long queue to get in but the shop which is also designed by him is open.
At the shop I have a glance at the books showcasing Gaudi’s designs. The Sagrada Família was designed to resemble stalagmites. His creations proved to be controversial at the time with people giving them degrading names like Casa Milá was called a quarry and a rat’s hole and Park Güell also was not widely received. He was not well liked but those who knew him well liked him. The only woman he loved did not reciprocate the feeling and he never married. He dressed like a pauper and died as a result of an accident where he was run over. As nobody recognised him he was taken to the poor people’s hospital. By the time he was recognised and taken for specialist care it was too late and he died of his injuries. His funeral was however a massive affair attended by a large crowd. The city’s pavements are decorated with his design motif of a flower with four petals as a tribute to Gaudí. He was a designer whose street lamps can also be seen around the city and furnitures adorn the houses he built. Seven of the buildings that he built have been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A genius to whom, I read, there was no one to rival or able to evaluate him as he was far greater than most.
The evening is spent with a walk along the most famous boulevard in Barcelona, La Rambla, which extends from the Columbus Column to Playa Catalyunia. Restaurants, shops and gelataria fill this pedestrianised road.
The sun sets and we have one more appointment to keep before night falls. We have booked a night bus tour to see the important landmarks of the city by night. It seems to be a popular tour. At Catalunya square we board the bus and await its departure. Police sirens ring out and the street vendors are making a quick exit. Once the police disperse the vendors return. It seems to be a futile exercise.
The first stop is Espanya square on the footsteps of the stairs from the Nacional art museum of Catalonia. On certain evenings of the week, the magic fountain dances to classical music. We arrive as the first show is finishing and there is a short break before the second and last one starts. I did scoff at the idea of watching the magic fountain. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all or that was my thinking. This one I read has been operational for ninety years which I think makes it pretty special. The colourful water dance was indeed pretty good.
I was barely able to listen to or understand the mutterings of the tour guide through the head phones. We had seen most of the landmarks and so it was not a tour that we needed to have done. When the tour was over we made a dash to catch one of the last metros back to the hotel.
Saturday dawns and we are returning home today, but we have just enough time for one more stop. Within walking distance of our hotel is the ‘Saint Pau Art Nouveau Site’. Built at the turn of the 20th century it was home to the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. Designed by Domènech i Montaner, it was a hospital till 2009 and used to treat the poor. Contributions from the City of Barcelona and the banker Pau Gil i Serra made it possible for the work to commence in 1902. The hospital buildings cover a large area and are built in Art Nouveau style with coloured roof tiles, beautifully decorated interiors and facades earning it a World Heritage Site title in 1997. The buildings itself were carefully planned to make them a place for the ill to receive the best treatment and recuperate in a safe, clean and pleasant environment.
The two important landmarks of the city, the Hospital and Sagrada Família are connected by Avenue Gaudí, a short walk of a few blocks. It is filled with restaurants, tapas bars and shops and makes for a pleasant stroll between the two imposing structures. One which provided treatment for the body and the other providing treatment for the soul as the audio guide reminded me.
A quick stop at a local cafe selling Horchata, a Spanish drink made of tiger nuts, (tiger nuts are not actually nuts but is a tuber and considered a healthy drink) and we are ready to return to our hotel to get the taxi to the airport. During the ride to the airport I get a chance to have a last look around the city as the driver collects the various guests from their respective hotels. We cover all the important landmarks once again. The striking feature once more are the decorative facades and balconies of the buildings of this city which make this one of the prettiest cities in Europe.